WS+B mourns death of co-founder Fred Withum

WithumSmith+Brown is commemorating the passing of one of the CPA firm’s founders, Fred Withum, who died Sept. 30, 2019 — a day before his 85th birthday.

Withum and his partners founded the firm in 1974 with six employees in a small office in Milltown, New Jersey. The firm is now headquartered in Princeton and has over 1,000 employees. It ranks 24th on Accounting Today's 2019 list of the Top 100 Firms.

Withum retired from the firm in 1987, but his colleagues remember him fondly. “Our other founders, Len Smith, Ivan Brown and Doug Sonier, worked closely with Fred in the early days of Withum, and can share best about his vision and leadership style,” wrote Withum managing partner and CEO Bill Hagaman in a message to the firm’s staff on Monday. He then shared some of their reminiscences.

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WithumSmith+Brown founders from left to right: Len Smith, the late Fred Withum (center) and Ivan Brown.

“From our early years as a firm, Fred was instrumental in instilling in us the importance of Client Service, Integrity, Growth and Community Service,” said Smith. “These principles have stayed with us for over 40 years and have become the foundation for the Withum Way. Fred was a big believer in planning, and often told us a quote from Lewis Carroll, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.’”

Sonier recalled that Withum was one of the first firms to hold annual strategic planning meetings and partner retreats in the 1970s. “Fred was a true entrepreneur who encouraged and supported each of us in expanding the firm’s footprint and services,” he said. “The confidence he instilled and demonstrated combined with measured risk-taking were key components that contributed to the growth and success of the firm.”

Brown recalled that Withum was instrumental in establishing a supportive tone for community outreach and work-life balance. “Fred was passionate about involvement in outside activities and giving back to the community,” he wrote. “He encouraged us to join and actively participate in charitable and professional organizations. In addition, providing pro-bono and reduced fee services to not-for-profits, many with June 30 FYE, was a win-win proposition. A strong proponent of family involvement, Fred encouraged carving out time to watch and participate via coaching and similar activities in our children’s lives.”

Hagaman noted that Withum placed great emphasis on the quality of the accounting profession’s services, and was a champion of the peer review process in the firm's early days, visiting all of the state society chapters in New Jersey to discuss and promote the new peer review program. In 1977, Withum became one of the first non-national accounting firms to voluntarily participate in the AICPA’s peer review program, and the firm has successfully passed all 13 peer reviews conducted since that time.

“This underscores another one of Fred’s famous quotes, ‘Our services are for sale. Our integrity is not.’ This truism still applies, as Withum team members continue to hold up the highest levels of values and ethics, and expect the same from those with whom they work,” said Hagaman.

Hagaman noted that Withum loved history, especially the Civil War and Revolutionary War periods. He also enjoyed boating, football (especially the New York Giants), birding and the outdoors.

Withum is survived by his wife, Marion Luchsinger Withum, of Killington, Vermont, whom he married in 1995; his son, Dr. Frederick Withum III and wife Jacquie, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania; his stepsons Frank and Mark Cassano, of Plymouth, Vermont, and Scott Cassano, of Kittery, Maine; his brother, Jack Withum, of Red Bank, New Jersey; grandchildren Story, Drew, Max, Madison, Jaclyn and Kevin; and his great-granddaughter, Callahan.

In keeping with Withum’s love of birds, the firm is making a memorial contribution to his favorite charity, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

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